The low-priced $90 Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso Maker can make cappuccinos on the cheap but its design could use work.
With fancy machines costing $1,000 or more, making espresso at home can be an expensive hobby to pick up. Before you get in too deep, consider the $90 Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso. For a modest investment it will accommodate your occasional latte or cappuccino coffee cravings.
Hard-core espresso addicts who prefer to their concentrated java straight won't find a friend in this Mr. Coffee. Like the $100 De'Longhi EC155, the machine is easily clogged by very fine grounds and suffers from inconsistent brewing temperatures plus a weak vibration pump. This translates into unpredictable espresso quality and bars the gadget from pulling delicious flavors from lightly roasted beans. A few annoying design issues and controls make it less fun to operate than the more compact De'Longhi as well.
Standing at a full 12.6 inches tall and spanning 11 inches wide by 12 inches deep, the Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso is close in size to compact drip brewers like the Bonavita BV1900TS. That said, this appliance noticeably looms over comparably smaller espresso machines such as the De'Longhi EC155.
A large part of the Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso Maker's bigger footprint is its huge water tank. Hugging the machine's entire back section, the reservoir is removable and boasts a hefty 52 ounces (1.54 L) of liquid (confirmed by scientific scale) when filled to its maximum fill line. This is a heck of a lot more than the De'Longhi's 34-ounce (1 L) capacity and significantly greater even than what Mr. Coffee lists on the product's website (40 ounces, 1.2 ounces).
While I appreciate that the tank comes away from the machine, removing the reservoir can be tricky. The source of the problem is the tank's cantankerous lid, which flips backward to open correctly. Flipping it forward often causes the lid to drop off of the tank completely, and replacing it is a much harder task than it should be.
I also caution against lifting the coffee maker by gripping it mostly from the back. Doing this is a recipe for disaster since the weight of the machine can detach it from the water tank abruptly. When this happened to me, I had to scramble to hang on to both the main unit and the separated tank lest one or both clatter to the floor, and even so I still managed to spill a lot of water everywhere.
As with the De'Longhi EC155, the Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso has a minimum of controls, and they're straightforward to operate. On the front of the device, above the brew head, are two buttons (Brew and Steam) that activate corresponding modes for brewing espresso and steaming milk. Flanking the buttons are a pair of status lights, a power indicator on the left and ready indicator to the right.
You'll find a flat "Control Knob" sitting on the machine's right side that has just three positions, coffee brewing, off and steam. Unfortunately the knob's steam function is either all on or shut off entirely. I prefer the dedicated steam dial on the De'Longi EC155, which spins multiple times around from its closed position and provides a wide range of variable steam control.
Unfortunately the Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso won't win any awards for sheer brewing ability. The appliance's documentation and marketing material play up its "thermoblock" hardware, saying it "heats water quickly and evenly." That doesn't promise a consistent brewing temperature, critical to making both quality espresso and drip coffee.
Thermocouple readings I took within the brew head varied widely during the 30 seconds or so it took to pull a 1.5 ounce shot. Even the maximum temps I logged on three test espresso runs swung from 209 degrees Fahrenheit (98.3 Celsius) to 204.6 F (95.9 C), then sank down to 197 F (91.6 C). For the record I also primed the machine per the manual's instructions before each shot. Essentially I ran steam through the frothing wand for 30 seconds, then brewed coffee immediately once the ready indicator glowed a steady green.
Refractometer results also pointed to haphazard extraction, with TDS percentages bouncing between 8.2, 3.9 and 6.2 percent on three additional espresso test pulls (also primed first), equating to extraction percentages of 24.5, 9.8 and 17.1. The shots tasted very bitter, weak and sour, and downright thin and watery respectively. In its defence I did manage to pull one decent shot (8.0 TDS, 24 percent extraction) which tasted complex with hints of chocolate and a slightly bitter back end.
Making tasty espresso from lightly roasted beans also proved beyond the Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso Maker's capabilities. Shots of Quills Blacksmith Espresso blend were too sour and lacked the sweetness and bright fruit the roast typically has. By contrast I could taste much of this flavor in a pot of perfectly extracted drip (1.4 TDS, 22.8 percent) I simultaneously brewed from the same beans in the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT-741.
Extra-fine coffee grounds, the powdery texture needed for brewing espresso from less soluble light city roasts, bring the machine to a complete standstill. The De'Longhi EC155 suffers from this affliction too.
Frothing milk with the Mr. Coffee was a challenge too due to the device's all-or-nothing steam control. That said, it is possible to use it to whip up usable foamed dairy for espresso-based classics like cappuccinos, macchiatos and lattes -- all of those I made were rich and quite tasty.
It's often said that espresso is the engineer's way to make coffee and I agree. Difficult and demanding in terms of both manual skill and physical hardware yet with a big payoff when successful, it's a project that most home appliances aren't up to tackling. If all you're really after is the occasional weekend latte or cappuccino, though, a gadget like the $90 Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso is perfectly adequate, particularly if you're on a tight budget.
That said, I suggest spending $10 more and choosing the $100 De'Longhi EC155 instead. It's far from perfect but the compact machine has better steam frothing controls and fewer design quirks, and takes up less counter space.